While I’ve always wanted a dog, I never felt like I had the time or resources to ever properly raise one. Regardless of my reservations, Charlie entered my life.
Charlie is a Chihuahua that one of my neighbors found left for dead inside of a dumpster. When he brought the Chihuahua back to his house, the young, frightened dog was immobile, emaciated, and on the brink of death. My neighbor told me, “If I had found him a day later, I’m sure the dog would have died.”
I first saw the dog after he managed to crawl under a tiny opening in the fence of my backyard. Upon laying eyes on him, I placed a hand over my mouth and murmured, “Oh my God.” At first I wasn’t sure if he was a dog, some rat with a growth issue, or a chinchilla (whatever those things are). Charlie was skinny. DEAD SKINNY. You could easily count the ribs protruding from his skin. Furthermore, his coloring looked off and it looked like a stiff wind could have easily knocked him over. It was certainly a very sad and grotesque sight to behold.
Luckily I had some leftover dog food that I had purchased for my previous roommate’s puppy. So I spilled some kibble into a bowl and gave him some water to go along with it. Being the foreign alien that I was to him, he just ignored my good-natured attempt and didn’t eat the food. “Eat it!” I said to him. “Eat it!”
Hoping that the food would eventually disappear into his belly, I went back inside the house. Days went by and the food remained in the bowl. I still saw him roaming the backyard and I thought to myself, “How is he staying alive?” Then I saw him eat stray cat poop. I came to the realization that he had been staying alive by eating cat fecal matter this whole time. It was probably the only “safe” food he had ever known. I got sad. Life, indeed, is tough for a homeless street dog.
Repeatedly I looked at the dog and yelled, “Eat the FOOD! EAT IT! It’s good for you!” But he still wouldn’t listen and continued to eat cat shit.
Still peeved that the dog wouldn’t eat the kibble, I sat down in front of him, grabbed the bowl and pretended to eat it myself. And I could see the wheels turning in his head as he looked at me. I placed the bowl in front of him and calmly said, “Go ahead. Eat it.”
I should also note that he was deathly afraid of me, and any other living thing really (he even got bullied by the cats he…err…ate from), so he still didn’t dare eat the food in front of me. Giving him some personal space, I went back inside. A couple hours later I walked out and noticed that the bowl was empty. “Perhaps there is some hope for you,” I thought to myself.
Eventually, I named him “Charlie,” a name I had seen on the label for the dog food I had (original, I know). And as the weeks continued to go by, Charlie began to fatten up and called a shed in my backyard home. Dare I say, he even began to start looking cute!
While I’ve always had a fondness for dogs, I’ve always hated Chihuahuas. They’re just tiny critters that bark a lot; however, Charlie was different. Even though he was a Chihuahua, he was extremely mild-mannered. Because he was never raised around other dogs, I honestly think he never learned how to bark. Anyways, the little guy started to grow on me and so I really wanted to start petting him. Pulling off this desire, as it turns out, was no easy feat.
I could tell that Charlie not only had motherhood abandonment issues but that he was physically abused. Every time I approached him, he would quickly run away. When I kneeled down to slowly inch my way closer, he would quickly back off. And anything remotely resembling the back of a hand was met with a quick sprint backwards.
“C’mon, Charlie, I’m not going to hurt you,” I said to him as I waved him in with the most inviting nod I could muster. He didn’t listen. And so this process went on for months: I would bring him his food/water, try to pet him, and then see him run away — rinse and repeat. …So I had an idea.
Charlie LOVED human food. Chicken, in particular. When I offered Charlie bits of chicken by hand, he would of course refuse, thinking I would strike him. So I devised a long-term strategy where I would place a piece of chicken on the floor and slowly back away so that he would have enough room to eat it and flee if needed. I did this everyday for weeks and with each and every passing day, I would stand closer and closer to the chicken. Eventually I was within arms reach of him. Finally, I took my chance: I reached out and stroked the back of his head. Startled, he quickly ran away and looked at me like I had devised some dastardly trap for him. Charlie simply did not understand that the soft, gentle touch of a human was supposed to feel good. All that trust I had built up over the months was almost lost. Almost.
There was definitely a resetting period that Charlie and I had to go through, but I kept at it. Eventually Charlie realized that I posed no serious threats when offering him food and after a while he began to get lazy with his retreats.
…And after months and months of patients, care, and respect, Charlie finally let me pet him.
It has been 9 months since I’ve met Charlie, and while he’s certainly still has a long way to go in the recovery process (I’m still the only human that he will allow to pet him), he has come along way. We often play hide and seek, go running at the park together, and now he BEGS me to scratch his belly everyday. I look forward to seeing what strides he can make in the future.